Jan 27, 2010

Folk Art, Gourd Art

Yesterday on our Hermits' Garden blog, I posted a little about the process of drying and priming gourds for bird houses and folk art. The process takes a little while--from seed to finished project, it takes almost a year.

I planted plenty of vines at our place last year--our first year in this home--and enjoyed watching them all grow and the fat little female flowers turning into gourds. The aphids apparently enjoyed the vines, too. Ick.

But eventually, I did get a bumper crop of gourds. Not many of them were big enough for birdhouses, but that suits me, because I had enough of them to get good seeds for this year, and have plans for the remaining smaller gourds.

The cool thing about these gourds is that the shapes vary just enough that they begin to suggest different uses. I love the wild, exuberant colors of Mexican folk art here in South Texas, and knew I wanted to do something like that with these fat little bottle shapes.

Once the gourds are dried (which takes months, and can look pretty gross in the process), I hand sand them so the primer coat will adhere. It takes two coats of primer for a good smooth surface, and then they're ready for paint. (I love priming things, by the way. Something nicely mindless about sitting there painting a soft gray...)

Once the primer is dry, then the carving begins. One of my favorite tools is the Dremel. It has sooooo many lovely little attachments. (The dog hates the Dremel, because I use it to trim his nails, but he hates it less than the old nail clippers.) I decide what it is I want to carve the gourd into, sketch a few lines with a pencil, and start cutting.

The Day of the Dead folk art here in San Antonio is one of my favorite cultural expressions. There's just something weirdly cheerful about the vibrant sugar skulls and humorous little skeletons. At the Alamo gift shop, I fell in love with a little Skeleton Wedding Cake Topper--now THAT's a "Til Death Us Do Part" kinda statement. So yesterday I decided to make my own version of a sugar skull. This one is not likely as sweet as the ones you find down in Mexico, but he's not likely to draw ants, either.

I carved out my lines and cleaned out the seeds, and began to sand the edges smooth. Carving lines for the teeth was tricky, because if you're not careful, details can break off, ruining the whole project. This part of the work done, it was ready to paint.

Now...the fun part. No, that's not true. It's just the most absorbing part, the part I can completely lose myself in...layer after layer of color and detail. For this one, I decided to use all seven colors of the rainbow. They are the same seven colors I use in a chakra meditation, and it just seemed fitting to use them for the first project, because the work really is a kind of meditation...a sort of "art trance". First a coat of black on the inside, both to seal the inner layer of the gourd, and to give the outer image some depth. Then three coats of white on the outside, as a base for the other colors and because, well, that's just how it goes. And lastly, all the tiny brushes come out for the fine lines, dots, squiggles, zigzags, vines, flowers, flourishes...too much fun! It takes anywhere from three to five hours to paint this much detail, and I'm loving every minute. (Yes, suppers get burned at our house often.) The end result, in this case, was this grinning character. I couldn't help it...I named him Gourdon.

I hope you like him.

Click on the picture to see more pictures of him at The Hermits' Garden.


  1. He's remarkably cheerful - I like his attitude. A rose on the tooth says a lot! Viva Gourdon.

  2. Heheh...Viva...Gourdon thinks that's hilarious and wonderful.


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